Help wanted: Volunteers play crucial role at shelter

| November 19, 2014 | 0 Comments

Steve Hawkins doesn’t need a theology book to know the definition of the Body of Christ.

He knows it goes into action every evening as homeless men who seek shelter at the Dorothy Day Center are cared for by Catholic men from a dozen parishes throughout the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who spend the night aiding, listening to and watching over them.

Men like John Bromen.

Bromen, a member of St. John Neumann in Eagan, has spent four or five nights each winter since 2010 volunteering at what’s called the overflow, the annex of Catholic Charities’ downtown St. Paul facility where mats on the floor serve as a place for men to lay their heads when beds at the shelter are already filled.

Funding recently came through for Catholic Charities to build a much needed renovation and expansion of the Dorothy Day Center to provide more emergency shelter, meals, medical care, housing and employment services.

But those extra beds won’t be available until 2016, and the pressing need for shelter means that more volunteers are needed, said Hawkins, also a St. John Neumann parishioner.

He said Bromen is a good example of “the true Body of Christ quietly at work among the poor and the sick in our midst.”

Bromen’s getting to know some of the guests at Dorothy Day led to his doing even more for them — being there when a man named Sylas came out of surgery, driving Gary to dialysis and taking him out to lunch, showing “love of neighbor by being their family,” as Hawkins put it.

“It is hard to say exactly why I volunteered at Dorothy Day,” Bromen told The Catholic Spirit. “I just felt that feeling in my heart that it was something I was supposed to do.”

Arriving around 7 p.m., he and another volunteer prepare the annex and make a pot of coffee on cold nights to warm up the guests.

Food arrives later in the evening, he said, and they help set up and clean up.

“Then comes my favorite part of the evening where we chat with the guests that feel like talking,” Bromen said.

“We chat about sports, work, school, weather, struggles . . . I do my best to be a good listener.”

“In the morning, we greet the guests and wish them a good day before they have to leave,” he said.”

The last couple of years, Bromen’s son Sam has been able to volunteer with him on occasion when he’s home from school. Sam attends the University of Minnesota Duluth.

“The guests have had a great influence on him by reminding him to work hard and always do his best in school,” Bromen said.

“Volunteering there has changed my perspective on the homeless,” he added.

“So many of the guests are just like me and are there due to unfortunate circumstances,” he said. “It is humbling to see how well they deal with the difficulties; it helps me keep things in perspective and makes me more grateful for the gifts I have. I pray for the guests and hope that I can make some small difference in their lives.”

Asked what he would say to someone who might be interested in volunteering at the overflow at Dorothy Day, Bromen put it simply, “The guests are friendly, the work is easy, and the benefits far outweigh the costs.”

To learn more about volunteering at the Dorothy Day Center, contact Steve Hawkins at (612) 916-7495 or


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